Previously, you read about the advice that Kate would have given herself when she was starting graduate school. Below is a continuation of that post by Dan that focuses more on how funding and research are integrated.
Research is an integral part of your PhD experience, and it will also be an integral part of your applications when applying for fellowships. Below are some tips for incorporating your research into funding proposals and how funding can affect the progression of your research.
When proposing a research plan, dream big. Many fellowship applications will require you to present a research plan. For nearly every new graduate student, this will seem scary. A common piece of advice that I received was to ask my advisor for help with crafting a solid research plan. While I was able to get some feedback from my advisor, many new graduate students will not have an advisor by the middle of their first semester. It can be difficult to think about the big picture of research in your field before you’ve even conducted any research. The most effective way to ground yourself in your field is to do a thorough literature review. Check with your advisor and colleagues to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Then, when choosing your specific project, think about the unsolved problems in your field – which should be informed by your literature review – and how your project will tackle them. Funders do not want to support research that investigates trivial problems. Make the case that your research is meaningful to society and dream big with how you will solve the important problems. Funders will be more excited about a research project that pushes the boundaries of the field as opposed to a “safe” project.
Not all advisors will have grant funding for the length of your degree. In a perfect world, all advisors would have enough grant funding to cover all research costs and stipends for all of their graduate students for as long as it takes them to graduate. In the real world, grants are funded at a fairly low rate, and your advisor may go through periods with little funding. The bottom line is that you need to be prepared for a time when your advisor cannot directly cover your stipend. Each graduate program has different policies for how it will allocate funds and positions to unfunded students. Sometimes these include graduate assistantships (GAships), teaching assistantships (TAships), or internal fellowships, but one of the best ways to ensure that you will have funding is to secure an external fellowship. Being proactive with your funding situation early in your graduate career can save you from some headaches later on. Additionally, you should consider applying for scholarships; even though they tend to be smaller than fellowships monetarily, they can help fill a funding gap for a summer or a semester.
There is a big difference in the rate of research progress whether you are on fellowship or required to work in some capacity. It’s important for new graduate students to begin thinking about the bigger picture of their graduate career and beyond as soon as possible. Try to map out how long it will take to complete each stage of your graduate career. Keep in mind that each stage will take longer if you are required to work in some capacity. Being a teaching assistant, research assistant, or graduate assistant will help pay your stipend, and it will probably provide you with meaningful experiences. However, there is no question that the time it takes to perform those job duties will take away from your dissertation research and add time to your degree. Depending on your plans after graduate school, this may or may not be a big deal, but it’s important to keep in mind.
Finally, remember that GradFund will be there to help you along the way with all of your needs while applying for external funding. Good luck!